The idea of a show's cast being like a family is a cliché as old as the theatre.
At the new Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, however, some cast members don't need a theatre family. They have actual family members with them on stage.
The Des McAnuff-directed production — which began at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival — features not only the father-son actors Sandy and Jonathan Winsby, but also the brothers Julius and Jason Sermonia. The four have appeared in all three of the musical's engagements since summer 2011: in Stratford, Ontario; La Jolla, CA; and now New York.
As novel as the notion may seem to an outsider, being in the same show is old hat for the Winsbys and Sermonias by now. This is the fourth stage production the Winsbys have shared. And the Sermonias have also teamed up a few times. "We've done three other productions before," said Jonathan Winsby. "Camelot is one." (Superstar ran in repertory with Camelot at Stratford in 2011.) "In 2004, we did Pirates of Penzance at a small theatre on the west coast of Canada. A couple years later, I was playing Gaston in Beauty and the Beast and we had lost our Maurice. He came out and filled in because he had played that before."
These double castings are not always coincidences. Jonathan recommends his father for jobs, and Sandy does the same.
"I think we should work as a package deal if there are roles for both of us," joked Jonathan. "I think some people quite like the fact that there's a father-son team doing shows with them. You don't hear that often. People say, 'Oh, that must be so wonderful for you.' Yeah, but we're used to it by now. Now, I almost expect to see him there at rehearsals. I just appreciate being able to spend time with him. Most adults don't get to see their father every day. But we get to pretend to be apostles every day in New York City."
Among the people who enjoy that family feeling is McAnuff. "He was telling me [in Stratford] that he was excited that he had cast us both in the show," said Jason Sermonia, who plays John to his brother's James, "and had us working as brothers in the show, and being brothers in real life."
It was Julius who told his brother about the Superstar audition. "Julius was at the festival for a couple years, and I was out in Los Angeles doing The Lion King," Jason explained, "and they had auditions for the show. I flew back for just one morning to audition and had to fly right back to do a show in L.A. I was really stoked to do it."
|photo by Monica Simoes|
According to Sandy Winsby, who is Andrew and the understudy Pilate/Caiaphas, his and his son's being cast in Superstar came down to vocal abilities. Jonathan had already been cast as Lancelot in Camelot. "I had been at Stratford before," Sandy said. "I was brought in to audition and sang before Des. I think they were looking for a younger company. But they said, 'Oh, what a great voice. Gray hair and a high voice. That's useful.' Jonathan was kind of hired for the Camelot role and they thought, well, he has a good voice. He can do this and understudy Jesus. We were both lucky with the range of our voices."
Sandy Winsby has a long history at Stratford, so when another younger Winsby showed up, staff members recognized the name. They also recognized the talent. "When I sang stuff for Lancelot, the music director stopped and said, 'Wow, you sound exactly like your dad.' We have very similar voices. I grew up mimicking my father. That's how I learned how to sing." Sandy Winsby was in the original Canadian companies of Cats and Les Misérables. "He saw me do a lot of shows," recalled Sandy. "He had a good singing voice as a child."
Unlike Jonathan Winsby, the Sermonia brothers had no parent in the business. Mom was a nurse and dad worked in the aircraft industry. But mother decided to enroll the boys in dancing glass. "Sports went down, dancing went up," remembered Julius. "It started to become really serious. Early on we decided this is what we wanted to do, be professional dancers." Their sister Jenny is also an actress, and was just cast in the national tour of Mary Poppins.
When in Stratford, Jonathan stayed with his father, who owns a house there. "It was great living together," remembered Sandy. "We barbecued and made meals together." In New York, however, they opted for separate digs.
"I don't think we'd want to — or rather he wouldn't want to [live together]," Sandy said with a laugh. "People would ask, 'Where do you live?' 'Oh, with my dad.'" Jason and Julius, meanwhile, room together whenever they get a chance. And the Sermonia household is a tranquil one.
Said Jason, "To be honest, we get along. It's very rare to have two brothers get along. We've always bunked together."
"It's fun," added Julius. "You wake up in the morning and know the types of food you grew up eating are there."